The English championship will not be won or lost this weekend, although the matches involving Arsenal FC, Manchester United FC and Newcastle United FC could go some way towards deciding the destination of the Premiership crown.
Air of vulnerability
The aim for leaders Arsenal FC will be to end a dismal few days on a high. The champions suddenly look vulnerable after last week's league defeat by Blackburn Rovers FC and their subsequent Champions League exit at the hands of Valencia. Arsène Wenger's team will want a show of strength against Everton FC at Highbury on Sunday.
Manchester United have whittled Arsenal's lead down to two points, and can overhaul the Gunners - for 24 hours at least - with a home victory against Fulham FC on Saturday. Newcastle United FC, meanwhile, will stay on United's coat-tails if they claim maximum points from Blackburn Rovers FC at St James' Park.
Room at the top
Serie A leaders Juventus FC are also facing a test of character. Marcello Lippi's men take a three-point advantage in the title race to AC Milan in a meeting of Champions League quarter-finalists. A Milan success could let in neighbours Internazionale FC to join the Bianconeri at the top of the table. The Nerazzurri have a less tricky assignment at Udinese Calcio. Elsewhere, S.S. Lazio tackle Parma AC at the Stadio Olimpico, while the fifth-placed team, AC Chievo Verona, travel to Atalanta BC.
The big match
The outstanding fixture in Spain's Primera División pits league leaders Real Madrid CF against RC Deportivo La Coruña at the Santiago Bernabéu. Madrid, who reached the Champions League quarter-finals in midweek, will want to maintain their three-point advantage over the Galician side. Real Sociedad, a point behind Madrid in second place, will be on hand to profit from any slip provided they beat Villarreal CF in San Sebastián.
Valencia CF and FC Barcelona, European survivors like Madrid, return to domestic duty with home games against RCD Espanyol and Real Racing Club Santander. Meanwhile, Athletic Club Bilbao may have to wait another week for their 1000th top-flight victory as they visit RC Celta Vigo. There are derby matches between Rayo Vallecano and Club Atlético de Madrid, and Malaga CF and Real Betis Balompié, as well as a relegation clash between RC Recreativo de Huelva and Club Atlético Osasuna.
The focus in France is on another local dispute, the so-called Atlantic derby between FC Girondins de Bordeaux and FC Nantes Atlantique. These teams were champions in 1999 and 2001 respectively, and have not given up hope of the title this time round. Bordeaux occupy fourth place, two points behind Ligue 1 leaders AS Monaco FC, with Nantes, in fifth, a further two points adrift. Monaco themselves travel to Le Havre AC, while nearest challengers Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais also have away days. Marseille head to relegation-threatened Montpellier Hérault SC; the defending champions are at OGC Nice.
Top and bottom meet in Germany too, with BV Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart, the sides in joint-second position, taking on teams at the wrong end of the 1. Bundesliga table. Dortmund make the trip to DSC Arminia Bielefeld, while Stuttgart entertain 1. FC Nürnberg.
Arguably the most compelling encounter, however, is the one between 1. FC Kaiserslautern and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. Both clubs are hovering dangerously above the relegation zone, and desperate to avoid defeat. Elsewhere, runaway leaders FC Bayern Munchen are at home to FC Hansa Rostock, and Hamburger SV carry their European ambitions to VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach.
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